Vang Vieng is a city in Laos that became famous to tourists for its wild ‘tubing.’ The reason for this that is because Vang Vieng took tubing (floating down a river) to a whole new level!
I was lucky enough to attend this event on my 21st birthday years ago. This event was extremely fun and the craziest birthday that I have ever had in my life.
As much fun as it is, it is also very dangerous- especially when drugs and alcohol are involved. Just a few months after my birthday celebrations this activity shut down for good due to many people dying while tubing. In fact, just the day after I went someone died. It is estimated that about thirty tourists died per year doing this activity.
Tubing in Laos shut down for about five years, but just this year (2017) it started back up again! My friends went and after listening to the experience I was surprised to find out that nothing changed to improve safety for the reintroduction.
There is no doubt that as dangerous but I have to be honest and say that it is a blast. If you do want to participate make sure to have your wits about you so that this event does end as a fun memory and not as a sad tragedy.
To help you I have written a step-by-step run down of my experience tubing. I explain both how fun it was and the reasons that is can become dangerous.
1. Sign a form stating that I can swim, rent a tube and get driven to the river
To sign the consent form I did not actually have to prove my swimming ability so anyone could sign the form as long as they know how to hold a pen.
2. Get taken across the river in a small boat to the first of many bars lining the river
This part is easy enough (unless you fall out of the boat and don’t know how to swim).
3. Purchase a bucket of alcohol and start playing beer pong with a group of people.
Many of the bars also illegally sold drugs- taking drugs is always risky business but add in a river with a strong current and that’s a recipe for disaster..
4. Start playing drunk volleyball (it is raining so everyone is completely covered in mud).
Slipping on mud?
5. Suddenly everyone runs for a tube and jumps into the river (some people didn’t rent tubes so are jumping onto other peoples).
Where do I begin with this one- drunk people without life jackets who might not be able to swim in a fast moving river.
6. Everyone gets out at the next bar. To get out at the next bar is an adventure in itself. There are locals who have a water bottle attached to a rope that they throw out to you. You grab onto the bottle and they pull you back in
If you miss the water bottle the river will take you and you better hope that you can get out at the next bar.
7. Everyone starts partying at the next
More drunk people and more stupid decisions.
8. Jump off a swinging rope into the river.
By this point people have a lot of liquid courage and are trying stupid things on the rope- like 3 people on it at one time. Even one person on this could be scary if they are not a strong swimmer or have had too much alcohol. I remember there being a rocky area that someone could have easily jump into and hit their head.
9. Jump on tubes again to head to the next bar
This time even more intoxicated. Did I mention that there are no lifeguards?
10. Get off at a bar with a giant water slide and slide down it into the river.
This was not your average water slide- it was basically made out of bathroom floor tiles. This made it dangerous if you hit your head and also made it extremely slippery, causing you to go flying into the river at full speed. Once you hit the water it was important to immediately swim to the side (especially because you had no tube). If not, the river would quickly and easily sweep you away.
11. Stop at a few more bars along the way until eventually everyone jumps on a tube and floats all the way to the end. The scenery during this part of the float is absolutely beautiful with beautiful grassy mountains.
This part isn’t too dangerous as the river starts to slow down and I remember finding it relaxing. At the end there are cars to pick you and your tubes up to drive you back. However, if you miss the spot to get out you could be in trouble
My friends and I were watching out for each other all day and were using our common sense. We had strong swimming skills and -being outdoorsy- a respect for mother nature and her power. Because we were cautious we managed to have a safe and amazing day.
However, this was not always the case for everyone. As you just read, there were a lot of possibilities for people to hurt themselves. And people did hurt themselves. This activity got international media attention when backpackers started dying in the river of Vang Vieng and eventually the Laos government was pressured to shut it down.
With a huge drop in tourism this activity was reintroduced years but has not been made any safer.
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